Climate Change Disproportionately Affects Visual Quality of Cultural Ecosystem Services in a Mountain Region
Expansive vistas in mountain systems make scenic viewscapes – the visible portions of a landscape with which people form a connection – essential providers of cultural ecosystem services (CES). Like the dynamic systems they encapsulate, mountain viewscapes are subject to change, but the CES they provide are rarely considered from future or dynamic perspectives. Here we forecasted change in CES, using climatic shifts of a culturally valuable tree species, quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), along scenic byways as an example of how viewscapes change through time. We simulated future aspen distributions in the Colorado Rocky Mountains through 2120 under three climate change scenarios and computed change in aspen visibility in 32,949 viewscapes. Across each scenario, the total area of aspen and its visibility from byways declined, but visible declines were 1.5–3.1 fold greater than declines in the study area overall. Differences between visible and total aspen peaked in mid-elevations (2000–3000 m) where aspen is most abundant. In contrast, aspen is forecasted to increase and become disproportionately more visible from scenic byways at lower elevations. Mismatch between total and visible declines in aspen highlights opportunities for tighter connections between landscape planning and ecological research for more comprehensive understanding of future changes in CES.
Inglis, N. C., and J. Vukomanovic. 2020. Climate change disproportionately affects visual quality of cultural ecosystem services in a mountain region. Ecosystem Services 45:101190.